The Lakers retired Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 34 jersey at halftime on Tuesday as the team hosted the Dallas Mavericks.
“The most gifted specimen I’ve ever seen play this game,” said Kobe Bryant in a prepared video. “Historical, the run we had together.”
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson spoke next (to a Staples Center crowd chanting “We want Phil”), reminiscing about the fun times he had with O’Neal and the Lakers.
“How much fun we had, the wins, the titles,” said Jackson.
“For me, Shaquille, I want to thank you for your dedication, leadership and the hard work you put in,” he continued.
Jeanie Buss presented O’Neal’s jersey, which will live in the rafters next to Magic Johnson’s No. 32.
“From the bottom of our hearts we thank you for always entertaining us with your talent, sense of humor and, most of all, the winning,” said Buss. “Now, congratulations, we would like to add you to all the Laker greats.”
“Can you dig it?” yelled O’Neal, taking the microphone after the jersey was revealed. “Can you dig it?”
O’Neal dedicated the night to the late Dr. Jerry Buss. He thanked his parents and six children.
“I’d like to thank the great Jerry West for bringing me here in 1996,” said O’Neal. “Jerry took a gamble on me.”
O’Neal’s thank you to Jackson was interrupted by the crowd’s second “We want Phil” chant.
“I want Phil, too,” said O’Neal.
He then thanked the fans, finishing with another “Can you dig it?” (his catchphrase from the Lakers’ championship parade in 2000).
O’Neal played eight seasons for the Lakers from 1996-2004. The team won three titles with the 7-foot-1 center in four NBA Finals appearances.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s a blessing. I didn’t do it by myself,” said O’Neal in a press conference before the game. “I had a lot of help — great teammates, great organization, the Buss family [and] great leadership from Phil Jackson.”
O’Neal also said that if and when he gets elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of fame, he’ll go in as a Laker.
His number 34 will hang in the rafters at Staples Center alongside Jerry West (44), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Elgin Baylor (22), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33), James Worthy (42), Gail Goodrich (25) and Jamaal Wilkes (52) and Magic Johnson.
The Lakers also have an honorary jersey for legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn, along with a banner honoring six Minneapolis Lakers — George Mike, Slater Martin, Clyde Lovellette, Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard and coach John Kundla.
–Los Angeles Times